Jets three-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft 5.0: Buzz continues to build around Zach Wilson at No. 2

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Ralph Vacchiano
·7 min read
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BYU quarterback Zach Wilson reacts win vs North Alabama
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson reacts win vs North Alabama

Following the clues of the Jets’ Quarterback Quandary can leave everyone twisted up like pretzels. One minute it seems like Sam Darnold is still The Man. The next it seems like he’s not.

For one thing, sources around the NFL continue to insist that new Jets coach Robert Saleh is a big fan of Darnold and believes he can win with him. Christopher Johnson, now the vice chairman of the Jets, is a big Darnold fan, too. Receiver Corey Davis said he signed with the Jets with the understanding that Darnold would be his quarterback. And there has been no indication around the league that the Jets are even willing to entertain offers to trade for Darnold at all.

But …

Last week, Saleh made the pilgrimage to Provo, Utah with Jets GM Joe Douglas to watch BYU quarterback Zach Wilson – the only Pro Day for a top quarterback that he’s attended. Then the 49ers – who know Saleh well -- made a blockbuster trade to move up in the draft from 12 to 3 and didn’t even bother to see if the Jets wanted to move down. Then the Eagles – who know Douglas well – traded down from 6 to 12 after expressing interest in moving up to 3, but only for Wilson, whom they seemed to know they wouldn’t get.

So what does it all mean?

Strap in, because with less than one month to go until the NFL Draft begins, the roller coaster ride likely isn’t over yet. Here’s my latest attempt to cut through the tea leaves with a three-round mock draft for the Jets, version 5.0:

First round (2nd overall) – BYU QB Zach Wilson

Everybody lies this time of year, and there is rarely a consensus opinion around the NFL on anything outside the first pick. But there is one now on the Jets’ plans at No. 2. You have to really work to find anyone that thinks the Jets won’t take Wilson at No. 2 right now.

His workout was great, but what sealed it were the double deals last week that seemed to be done with at least some inside knowledge of the Jets’ plans. Also, the fact that Saleh made the trek to Provo to see Wilson, but hasn’t gone to see any other top quarterbacks, sure made it seem like Douglas wanted him along to see his future starter. Put it all together and even Darnold has to believe that Wilson is the Jets’ guy.

The rest of what happens is unclear, though. There is no sign of the Jets trying to trade Darnold, despite a flurry of quarterback moves that, if nothing else, shrunk his market. There is actually increasing speculation that the Jets will draft Wilson and keep Darnold, letting them battle it out for the job in 2021 and then trading Darnold later or letting him walk as a free agent next March.

That’s for later, though. For now, it seems, the Jets have zeroed in on the 6-3, 210-pound Wilson, with his rocket arm and uncanny ability to throw on the run. That gives them a quarterback many believe will be a star (just like they did with Darnold three years ago) and lets them reset their franchise quarterback’s financial clock.

(Previous picks: Oregon OT Penei Sewell; Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle (trading down to 8); Sewell; LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase)

First round (23rd overall) – Northwestern CB Greg Newsome II

The Jets have left themselves two obvious holes after free agency, but none more glaring than cornerback. It’s just impossible to believe they’re willing to head into the season with Bless Austin and Bryce Hall as their starters, and there’s been very little indication that they were involved in the free-agent cornerback market. That’s led many to believe they have their eyes on the draft.

There are some good ones, too. Newsome probably ranks fourth, but 23rd is too low for Alabama’s Patrick Surtain. South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn seemed more likely here, but he’s probably going to go higher, especially now that Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley needed back surgery. Will that surgery be enough to push Farley down this far? I’m guessing probably not.

But Newsome isn’t a bad consolation prize at 23. The 6-foot, 190-pounder is considered an NFL-ready corner. He almost never got beat deep in college, was terrific on contested catches, and really created a buzz when he ran a 4.38 in the 40 at his Pro Day. He would instantly be the No. 1 cornerback for the Jets and scouts say he’s perfect for the Cover-3 that Saleh likes to use.

(Previous picks: South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn; Clemson RB Travis Etienne; Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman; Horn)

Second round, 34th overall – Oklahoma State OL Tevin Jenkins

Douglas’ oft-stated philosophy is that everything starts with the offensive line, and he knows he’s got problems there at the moment. The Jets are basically returning all five starters from a unit that was bad last season, and outside of left tackle Mekhi Becton they have no young linemen in the pipeline. That almost has to change sometime in the first two days of the draft.

There are probably seven linemen worthy of a first-round pick and it’s a sure bet that one or two of them will slip to early in the second round. The 6-5, 310-pound Jenkins could be a candidate, if only because some scouts are unsure of his position. He’s got the size and athleticism to be a tackle, but there are some who think he’s better suited to play guard.

The Jets certainly have a need at both spots, so they could play him wherever in 2021 and then just figure out his natural position for the future. He was mostly a left tackle in college, but he did have right tackle experience, so his presence wouldn’t disrupt Becton either.

(Previous picks: Penn State DE Jason Oweh; Miami DE Jaelan Phillips; Phillips, Clemson RB Travis Etienne)

Third round (66th overall) – Oklahoma State WR Tylan Wallace

Don’t think for a second that the Jets are done adding receivers after signing Davis and Keelan Cole in free agency. Wallace might be a bit undersized at 5-11, 193, but the Jets already have to 6-3 receivers (Davis and Denzel Mims), plus a dangerous slot receiver in Jamison Crowder.

Wallace can play inside or outside and is considered a really tough receiver, who fights for contested catches and for extra yards. He was also spectacular for the Cowboys back in 2018 when he had 86 catches for 1,491 yards and seven touchdowns. But he tore his ACL late in the 2019 season and his production last year wasn’t quite the same.

Still, he proved he’s healthy and recently ran a 4.39 in the 40. He could be the Jets’ future in the slot once Crowder is gone. And the combination of his old injury, plus a very deep receiver class, should push him down until at least the third round.

(Previous pick: Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell; Washington CB Elijah Molden; North Carolina RB Javonte Williams; Tennessee G Trey Smith)

Third round (86th overall) – Oregon S Jevon Holland

The Jets were nosing around safeties in free agency and settled on converted corner Lamarcus Joyner to be the ball-hawking, free safety that Saleh wants for his defense. But since Joyner will be 31 in November, he’s not the future. Maybe it will be Ashtyn Davis. Or maybe the 6-1, 196-pound Holland could be in the mix.

Holland has the skills to be a ball-hawker, but the versatility to play up closer to the line of scrimmage or even a “big nickel” role – especially since some scouts think he could eventually be a cornerback in the NFL. It would all depend on how Saleh wants to use him.

He also could be a bit of a steal this low. He was considered one of the top safeties in the draft before he opted out of the 2020 season. Some say he could use a little more time to develop, but he’ll be able to get that from the Jets.

(Previous pick: G Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater; Boston College TE Hunter Long; Ohio State C Josh Myers; Long)